Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life of a Poet - Nan Pasquarello

Kids, what a great time we've been having, zipping around the blogosphere, meeting poets, chatting about their lives, and their views on writing, and on life. Today, we are flying over to the eastern seaboard to chat with Nan Pasquarello, of Jade Page Press fame. Nan is very active in the blogosphere, was given a nice nod at Eclecticity! a while back, and posts for prompts at many familiar sites, including Poets United. It's summer on the east coast, so I'm hoping for lawn chairs in the back garden and some iced tea.

Poets United: Nan, I’m so happy to be sitting down with you! Would you like to set the scene for us, and tell us a bit about your family, and where you live?

Nan: Sherry, thank you! Poets United is a tremendously welcoming forum! I live in central New York State in a small college town with my husband and teenage son, and our two cats, Mars and Natalie.  I settled here more than 20 years ago after finishing my Master’s degree, and I live a pretty mundane and conventional life. The Internet allows for me to live in a broader community, and I enjoy the camaraderie of writers living all over the world!

Nan, Matt and Tom

Poets United: One of your poems speaks of caring for an elderly relative, which seems to be more common than one might think. I am wondering, is that your situation? 

Nan: Actually, I am not caring for an elderly relative at present . . . the poem you are referring to is one of a series of “empathy poems.” In writing, I often channel the feelings I imagine in others into the narrator’s voice. I tend to feel other people’s feelings pretty deeply, and the empathy poems are a way to express those feelings so that I don’t personally carry too much. 

I wrote that particular poem from a Wordle over at The Sunday Whirl, and the words presented reminded me of a friend in her 50s, whose 50-something husband has Alzheimer’s Disease. Her life is not at all what people might imagine. Often empathy poems are a mix of pure imagination with feelings picked up from context clues.

Poets United: That's interesting, Nan.....I love the sound of empathy poems. Your profile says you work in the field of education? Do you bring your love of poetry into the classroom?

Nan: I suppose I need to update my profile, because after a 23 year career in higher education, I have recently made a switch to working as a case manager for a not-for-profit agency, where I am mainly doing advocacy and social work. 

Poets United: That must be very gratifying work.

Nan: For the past ten years I was an administrator working with college students at a local college, and I educated students on choices outside of the classroom -- student conduct issues (drugs, alcohol, etc.) – doing prevention work as well as coordinating the student discipline process for an institution of more than 7,000 students. It was an associate dean of students type of role, and it was gratifying, but high burnout. Before that, I worked as a career counselor, an associate director of alumni relations, and a transfer credit evaluator/admissions counselor, all at the same college. 

I took a sabbatical from my student conduct position a year ago to try something new, and I have decided to stay with the new and not return to my old job! However, I still do education and training -- now on adoption issues -- so I suppose I continue to be an educator, however broadly defined.

Poets United: It  sounds very  rewarding. Way to be! Where did you grow up, Nan? I see you have a background in music, that you studied and performed publicly when you were younger. Would you like to tell us a bit about your musical life? 

Nan: I grew up in Upstate New York, the oldest of four children to two wonderful parents, both of whom are retired educators, and both of whom are musicians. I studied flute throughout high school, and was privileged to play in some outstanding ensembles, bands and orchestras. When it came time to select a college, I was accepted to a good music school as well as to some schools that focused more on a broad-based academic program. 

Even at 16, I knew that I didn’t want music to be “work,” so I opted not to pursue music as an undergrad and went to a university where I focused on academics. I continued to take lessons in college and I still play occasionally. 

I keep saying I am going to get back to practicing daily and join a band or ensemble, but I haven’t done it yet. I still think I will get back to it. Playing an instrument is an incredibly healthy and joyful endeavor!! I occasionally sing with a group, and I do enjoy that very much.

Tom and Nan

Poets United: Oh, you must join an ensemble – Joy Rising! Is there a connection between music and poetry for you?

Nan: Definitely! In fact with many songs, I do not distinguish lyrics from poetry; they are one and the same. For example, with an artist like Joni Mitchell, every song is a poem. With wordless music, that which can’t be expressed in words is expressed in melody, harmony, dissonance, “color,” rhythm, etc. Interestingly, when I listen to music with lyrics, I often don’t “hear” the words first – I tend to hear melody, harmony, rhythm all first… and then my brain will soak in the words. So, while music and poetry are certainly connected, I think that possibly different parts of my brain are lighting up with one than the other (with some overlap).

Poets United: When did you start to focus on and develop your skill in poetry?

Nan: I began to write in earnest about six years ago when I began to blog. My blog started out as an “unlisted” blog that was going to be a simple travelogue. It morphed to be a place I could go to pen thoughts (prose)… recollections, stories of the mundanities of life. I then started writing what I characterized as “haiku” (I have a label on my blog called haiku). Sometimes I would write a recollections piece and then end it with a summary “haiku.” I later learned that there is actually a poetic form called a haibun, and what I was doing was a sort of haibun.

A blog friend told me about the online poetry forum, Big Tent Poetry, when it was gearing up to start back in May 2010. It was with Big Tent that I started writing at least a poem a week. Some of my best poems were written to the Big Tent prompts (and they are on my blog under the label of “Big Tent.”) 

Even though I had been an English major as an undergraduate, I never quite gotten into poetry back then. I don’t think I had enough life experience to appreciate what poetry was. Reading my fellow poets under the Big Tent was so ALIVE. I began to learn much more – and began to appreciate the DEAD poets too. [In fact, one form I love is the Dead Man poetry (Marvin Bell). I have taken a crack at a couple of those poems.]


Poets United: What do you love about poetry, and what keeps you writing it?

Nan: I think what I love most about poetry is that so much of it “moves” me. Whether I am reading or writing poems, words get stirred up and express emotions and energy that help make meaning in life. Poetry can cleanse a mind of injustice or pain just as it can celebrate the divine.


There is a poem by William Blake … called Auguries of Innocence – and it contains a musing on joy and woe that beautifully expresses what is woven into human life. 

Poets United: Oh, yes! That's the poem that starts off:

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Nan: The fact that poetry can express this is amazing –and the poems I tend to love and those I tend to write usually express joy and/or woe. I also really like poetry that conveys a state of mindfulness – a singular moment of the divine – something beyond sadness or celebration.

 I posted the Blake segment on my blog awhile back 

man was made for joy and woe;
and when this we rightly know
through the world we safely go.
joy and woe are woven fine,
a clothing for the soul divine.
under every grief and pine
runs a joy with silken twine.

--William Blake

Poets United: How lovely that is! What would you say lies at the heart of “good” poetry for you?

Nan: Good poetry resonates in one’s heart. When I find myself re-reading and re-reading a line or a stanza, absorbing the imagery, feeling the feeling – whether it be Zen, a pure moment of joy or grace, or a serving of pain – good poetry moves us. I recently read a poignant poem on loss, and the comment that I made was:

It is so good to write pieces on loss. It helps the pain woven into the fabric of us to air…”

Writing....helps the pain woven into the fabric of us to air.....

Poets United: I love that! What contribution has blogging made to your writing?

Nan: I don’t know that I would be writing without blogging. My blog is my writing platform. I have never been one to keep a diary or journal. I have tried, and the effort tapers quickly. There is something about the electronic “save” that I find very ironic. It exists in the ether, on the hard drive, but not in my mind – not on paper.  My main blog is not entirely poetry… it is a real hodge-podge of poems, music videos, quotes and images, book and movie reviews, and little “every day” writing. 


Matt and I accompanied Tom on two student trips to Belize in 07 and 09. In fact, the January 07 trip was the reason I started the blog! So there are a lot of photos on the blog from those trips under the "Belize" label. I include a couple of photos here, along with some from the Adirondacks. Even though I am not in a lot of my photos, I am the eye that takes them, so I feel part of me in the pictures :-)

Poets United: Your site is marvelous! Do you have a favorite poem written by you, or one you feel best describes you?

Nan: I don’t really have a favorite or one that necessarily best describes me. I like some of my sillier pieces – they were fun to write and are fun to read out loud. I have found it cathartic to write about sadness and find peace/resolution in the endings. I wrote one this past September called “layers of ash,” on the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers tragedy of 9/11/2001 in honor of lives lost. I played around with Wordle words, voice, and physical poem structure.

Poets United: It is very moving, Nan. I so enjoy the gems to be found on your second site: tiny river splash, your small stone site. I love the quote you have there that says small stones are “a polished moment of paying perfect attention”. Would you like to tell us about the purpose of both blogs and what you are striving for in each of them?

Nan: I have participated in A River of Stones for a couple of years now… a project which challenged participants to write a “small stone” per day for a particular month. The first time I participated, I posted the small stones to Jade Page Press under a label “aros.” After that, however, I decided to have a blog just for small stones, and that is when I added the separate blog. I was delighted to have a small stone published in the first anthology assembled by Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita, the organizers of ‘the river’ (found at Writing Our Way Home

I have two more that will be published in their next collection. These are the only poems I have had published. I have not submitted any of my poems yet for any publication other than these small stones. Maybe one of these days…

Poets United: That's wonderful, Nan! Do keep submitting!

Top of Rocky Point

Nan: Small stones encourage the practice of mindfulness so that one can pay proper attention to a moment in time and then write it down. I find even after I stop writing things down, I am more “in the moment” all day. It is a great practice and a lot of fun!

Poets United: Where is your favorite place to write?

Nan: I once wrote a poem at sunrise on the rocky shore of Lake Champlain – on my Blackberry – and that was my favorite writing experience ever. Ordinarily, however, I write in a corner of my bedroom at my little desk, facing a window outside.

Poets United: Do you have an all-time favorite poet?

Nan: There are several poets that I deeply admire and appreciate – and many more I am sure I still need to discover! Mary Oliver would be at the top of the list along with Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Nikky Finney, Dorothy Parker, Naomi Shihab Nye…  Mystic poets Rumi and Rainer Maria Rilke are foundational.  I like to start each day by reading the poem over at The Writer’s Almanac,  and I have been introduced to some amazing poets there. (Thank you, American Public Media and Garrison Keillor!)

Poets United:  Any causes dear to your heart?

Nan: I am passionate about the topic of adoption and believe that families are formed in many different ways. I believe in compassionate adoption, in which the needs of all members of the adoption circle – children, birth parents, adoptive parents – are regarded and considered unique… and that openness and honesty in adoption will advance people’s understanding. I have some good adoption links on my blog and I welcome interested folks to visit them.

Poets United: That is an important cause to support and promote.There is always an unexpected surprise in each interview. For me, this time,  it is your interest in karate. Do you train?

Nan: I was privileged to study a traditional Japanese martial art, Washin Ryu Karate, with Master Hidy Ochiai for more than 20 years. He is an amazing teacher! I started studying when I was 20 years old. For the past six or seven years I have not been taking classes regularly, and so I am sort of “retired.” At one time I was a very serious student, and went to classes 4-5 times per week. It was wonderful exercise for the body and mind and it helped shape me into the person I have become. Not a day goes by when I don’t use some aspect of my training in my daily life, even if I am not an active student anymore.

Poets United: Wow. So cool. What other activities do you enjoy? (We could have a great conversation about books and movies, if we didn't need to cover the Writing thing!)

Nan: So many interests! So little time! You have gleaned that I love to read, write and watch good films or quality television programs.  I love my family and friends and any time spent relaxing or on a project with those I love is a great way to spend time. I enjoy humor and laughing.  I like to walk and ride my bicycle and hike – I love the outdoors (mountains, lakes, oceans!) and appreciate nature. 

My beloved back yard pin oak tree in summer

I have a backyard pin oak tree that I enjoy watching and photographing. I enjoy bird watching. I also enjoy meditation when I make time for it. Music is very important in my life. Life can be full of beauty! On a more basic level, I enjoy a good cup of coffee or tea, dark chocolate, and in general, good food and drink. I am a pretty simple person who occasionally dabbles in the “finer things in life.”

Poets United: I detected that  love of nature in your writing, and noted also that you have the gift of seeing “the little things”, those small things that are little miracles. I so love that.

Nan: Yes, I do love nature and this beautiful earth. Causes on the macro level: racial justice, economic justice, marriage equality, women’s rights, education and access for all, protection of our environment … helping those that need help -- these are things that I believe in. I guess on some level I am an old-fashioned patriot – and also an unapologetic liberal and feminist. I believe in peace, religious freedom, democracy, and respect. On a micro-level I try to focus on the divine in the mundane and focus on living in the present moment… when I remember!

Trail in the Adirondacks - a half day from our home

Poets United: You've hit all the important stuff, Nan! Where is your favorite place on the planet?

Nan: It might be a three-way tie between the Adirondacks (lakes/mountains), Cape Cod, or Carmel, CA. But honestly, any place I can be happy with the ones I love is my favorite place on the planet.

Poets United: Aww, so sweet. What does a perfect day look like, to you?

Nan: After a good night’s rest, a perfect day is 75 degrees and sunny with a breeze – and has time for good food, some exercise or work, time with others and time alone – and some laughter, in peaceful surroundings.

Inlet sunset

Poets United: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Poets United?

Nan: You know, I mentioned Big Tent Poetry (now closed) - but the other sites where I regularly participate are We Write Poems and The Sunday Whirl....and of course I like to post random poems at Poets United and participate here, too. I appreciate the people who put in the time to create community, so I thought it might be nice for me to give them a shout out. They help me to keep writing and provide an audience to read poems. Thank you for this forum. I really like what is shared here – and love the Poetry Pantry! Keep up all the great writing, all!

Poets United: Thank you so much, Nan, for the shout out, and for this wonderful glimpse into your life. We look forward to reading much more of your work at Poets United.

Wasn't this a pleasant visit, kids? Isn't it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Sherry, another fine interview. Nan, I always enjoy visiting your poetry blog, as it seems so often you write poetry about the kind of 'human' subjects that I am drawn to as well. It was interesting to read your background, as it gives more insight into the poet behind the words. I admire the change you made in career, the way you found another path at this point in your career life; and your cats are 'charmers.'

  2. Sherry, this was one of my favorite interviews. Nan, your lifes credentials, meaning your life experiences, are quite impressive not that that was the attention you were wanting.

    I enjoyed som much your response and philosophy:...Poetry can cleanse a mind of injustice or pain just as it can celebrate the divine...; Writing...helps the pain woven into the fabric of us to air.

    Also, your interest into the marshal arts runs parallel to my interest before my two total prosthetic hip implants.
    My University studies' focus was philosophy with a strong interest in the 'eastern' mind, ie Asian and Indian which was my motivation int the arts.

    Thank you for sharing and Gracias mi amiga, Sherry

  3. Wonderful interview ladies! I so enjoyed learning more about Nan and her interests~ I love her view on nature and poetry..beautiful thoughts shared! I look forward to reading more of Nan's poems~
    Nan, so wonderful to meet you :D

  4. Thank you, friends!! Thank you, Sherry!! Please visit my poems in the "archives" under the poetry label on my blog. I always appreciate comments.


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